As of November 25, 2023, Australia’s Department of Home Affairs is moving forward with key updates to the country’s permanent residency pathway for temporary skilled workers. Under the changes, announced earlier this year, all subclass 482 visa holders are eligible to apply for permanent residency. Previously, subclass 482 visa holders in short-term occupations were unable to seek permanent residency. The changes also allow short-term subclass 482 visa holders to renew their visas indefinitely, and reduce the required employment period before seeking permanent residency from three years to two. The new policies are designed to provide more equitable access to permanent residency in Australia.

Continue Reading Australia Implements Changes to Permanent Residency Program

The State Department has recently extended the validity of certain visas for citizens of France, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Cuba.  This trend may signal an effort is underway to adjust visa validity periods for other nationalities and visa types.  Travelers are advised to monitor the State Department’s website for announced changes

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires the State Department, insofar as practicable, to “accord to such nationals the same treatment upon a reciprocal basis as such foreign country accords to nationals of the United States who are within a similar class.” INA 221(c), 8 USC section 1201(c). Accordingly, when determining the maximum validity periods for the different visa types for citizens of each country in the world, the State Department is required by law to match, whenever practicable, the validity periods provided to U.S. citizens by each country. For example, the Government of India permits the issuance of 10-year multiple-entry visas to U.S. citizens; therefore, the U.S. Government permits the issuance of 10-year multiple-entry visas to Indian citizens.

Based on this visa reciprocity law, the U.S. Embassy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced that, effective September 29, 2023, DRC citizens can receive two-year, multiple-entry tourist and student visas.  And most recently, the State Department increased the visa validity period for French E-1 and E-2 visa holders from 25-months to 48-months, partially reversing a 2019 downward adjustment from an original 60-month duration. 

However, in a rare exception to reciprocity, the U.S. Embassy in Cuba announced that, as of August 25, 2023, B2 (visitor) visas issued to Cuban nationals may be valid for up to five years and permit multiple entries into the United States, although U.S. citizens are only eligible for single-entry, three-month visas to Cuba. The practical effect of this change is yet to be seen, as the U.S. Embassy in Havana does not currently process B2 visas for tourist travel. 

In light of the State Department’s active review of visa reciprocity under INA 221(c), stakeholders in the U.S. visa system should anticipate more positive adjustments to visa reciprocity schedules.

On November 6, 2023, the U.S. Department of State announced, for the second consecutive month, that processing times for passport applications have improved.  The Department is now processing routine applications in 7 to 10 weeks and expedited applications in only 3 to 5 weeks.  This is an improvement of 1 week for regular applications and 2 weeks for expedited applications, and it represents the second positive adjustment in processing times in 2023.  Applicants should be aware that processing times begin when the Department receives the passport applications and do not include mailing times. 

Between October 2022 and September 2023, the Department or State issued more than 24 million passport books and cards, which is the most passport applications ever processed in history in a single federal fiscal year.

Despite the announcement, passport applicants are advised to apply as early as possible and to pay the extra fees for expedited service and return delivery.  As passport application volume historically dips in autumn, these continuously improving processing times may be temporary. 

The Department of State is taking steps to make improvements to passport processing in 2024.  Department leadership previously announced a sustained investment in IT infrastructure and staff, such as the hiring of 177 new passport adjudicators and rolling out the online passport renewal program.   Without continued systemic improvements to passport processing, long processing times could remain a seasonal irritation for travelers requiring advance planning and flexibility.    

The online registration period for the Diversity Visa Program concludes on Tuesday, November 7, 2023, at 12:00 PM EST.

The U.S. Diversity Visa program (DV program, also known as the “green card lottery” or “the visa lottery”) is a unique immigration initiative that has been in place since the 1990’s. This program is designed to diversify the immigrant population of the United States by providing an opportunity for individuals from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the U.S. to obtain a visa and pursue the American Dream.

To participate in the Diversity Visa Lottery, individuals must meet specific eligibility criteria. They must be from a qualifying country, which typically excludes countries with high rates of immigration to the U.S. For the first time, individuals born in the United Kingdom and its dependent territories are eligible. Applicants must also have at least a high school education or two years of work experience in a qualifying occupation and undergo a security background check by the U.S. government. 

Continue Reading The American Dream Through the Diversity Visa Lottery Program

The European Commission has again delayed the implementation of the European Travel Information Authorization System (ETIAS). ETIAS is an automated electronic visa waiver program intended to facilitate travel across borders in Europe while better identifying security risks for the Schengen bloc. ETIAS was previously set to be launched in May 2023 but delayed until November 2023. The launch of ETIAS was then further delayed until 2024. Media reports had earlier indicated that another delay was likely, and the European Commission has now confirmed that the system’s implementation has been postponed until mid-2025.

Continue Reading EU Officially Pushes Launch of Electronic Visa Waiver Program to 2025

On October 19, 2023, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced Israel’s immediate eligibility for the Visa Waiver Program.  This follows DHS’ September 27th designation, announcing a November 30, 2023 start date, which has apparently been accelerated.  Israelis may now apply for the Visa Waiver Program online through Customs and Border Protection.  An approval will allow citizens and nationals of Israel to travel to the United States for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days without first obtaining a U.S. visa.  Authorizations are generally valid for two years.  Israelis with valid B-1/B-2 visas may continue to use them for business and tourist travel to the United States.

The US Supreme Court has declined to consider a lawsuit that sought to eliminate a work authorization program widely utilized by foreign graduates of US universities. The Supreme Court’s denial of a writ of certiorari ensures that foreign graduates may continue working through the Department of Homeland Security’s Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, eliminating a source of uncertainty for students, universities, and employers alike.

Importantly, according to several Senators and some observers, the broader implication of the Supreme Court’s decision is to empower the executive branch with the authority to grant employment eligibility to a wide range of additional non-immigrants—in 22 visa categories—including the dependent spouses of principal non-immigrant applicants.

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On October 16, 2023, the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem announced that both the Embassy and the Embassy Branch Office in Tel Aviv have ceased offering nonimmigrant and immigrant visa services due to the security situation.  The Embassy did not speculate as to when service will resume.  Travelers having an emergency need to travel to the United States were invited by the U.S. Embassy to apply outside of Israel for a U.S. visa, noting that U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide can assist with expedited appointments for emergency travel.  Despite the U.S. Embassy’s invitation, we suggest that Israeli applicants exercise caution and carefully consider whether applying outside Israel is prudent in their specific situations.  The State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual indicates that “it may be more difficult for an out-of-district applicant to overcome the burden of proof” when seeking a visa in categories requiring applicants to overcome the legal presumption of intending immigration to the United States.

The UK Home Office has announced that, with effect from 4 October 2023, there will be an increase in application fees for a number of UK immigration and nationality routes.  The headline increases are:

  • Work and visit visas – increasing by up to 15%
  • Family visas, settlement and citizenship fees – increasing by up to 20%
  • Student visas – increasing by up to 35%

Background to the fee increases

Since the introduction of visa and settlement application fees in the UK in 2003, the cost to individuals and businesses has risen significantly over the years.  The UK government’s view is that those who benefit the most from the immigration system, that is migrants themselves and those, such as employers, who sponsor migrants, should pay for its costs.  To this end, the fees set by the Home Office are above the actual cost of processing immigration applications as the income generated is also used to fund the operation of the UK’s border control and immigration system as a whole, including the compliance and enforcement functions.  A spreadsheet of the new 4 October fees detailing the actual cost to the Home Office for each category can be found here.

Immigration Health Surcharge

The Home Office has also proposed to increase the Immigration Health Surcharge by 66% from £624 to £1,035 per year.  Although the UK Government has yet to publish the date that this will come into effect, it is likely to be early next year.

Immigration Skills Charge

One piece of good news is that there are currently no plans to increase the Immigration Skills Charge, which currently costs £364 or £1000 per year for each sponsored migrant depending on whether the sponsor is a small or large employer.

Immigration and Nationality Fees

Below is a table listing some of the main fee changes which are likely to affect employers who sponsor migrants to work in the UK.  The full details of the new fees may be found here.

 ApplicationCurrent feeNew fee as of 4 October 2023Fee change / Percentage increase
Certificate of Sponsorship (“CoS”) – including Skilled Worker and Senior or Specialist Worker£199£239£40 / 20%
Skilled Worker or Senior or Specialist Worker visa application for three years or less (main applicant and each dependant)£625£719£94 / 15%
Skilled Worker or Senior or Specialist Worker visa application for more than three years (main applicant and each dependant)£1,235£1,420£185 / 15%
Skilled Worker or Senior or Specialist Worker in-country extension application for three years or less (main applicant and each dependant)£719£827£108 / 15%
Skilled Worker or Senior or Specialist Worker in-country extension application for more than three years (main applicant and each dependant)£1,423£1,500£77 / 5.4%
Indefinite leave to remain on the basis of five years’ sponsored employment in the UK (also known as settlement)£2,404£2,885£481 / 20%
Naturalisation as a British citizen (adult – this is in addition to the Citizenship Ceremony fee of £80)£1,250£1,500£250 / 20%
Registration as a British citizen (child)£1,012£1,214£202 / 20%
Priority processing of out of country visa applications (non-settlement)£250£500£250 / 100%

To give sponsoring employers an idea of how this will affect them, the overall cost, excluding legal fees, of sponsoring a migrant for five years, where the sponsor is a large employer and the priority service is used, will increase by £475 (from £9,804 to £10,279) while the overall cost of sponsoring a migrant who has a partner and two children accompanying them to the UK for the same period will increase by £1780 (from £23,619 to £25,399).


Whilst the Home Office states that all fee changes take into account the overall cost to applicants and employers versus the necessity of generating income to achieve the Home Office’s aim of a “largely self-funded” immigration system, there is no doubt that these above inflation fee increases will add to the significant fees burden already imposed on employers and migrants to the UK.  These fee increases may potentially affect the UK’s economic growth if they lead to companies moving specialist roles which they cannot fill from the UK’s domestic labour market to other countries or they result in highly skilled migrants deciding not to relocate to the UK as they consider the immigration costs to be excessive. 

Sponsoring employers may therefore wish to consider the duration of sponsorship.  If a CoS is assigned for the maximum five year period at the outset, although this may save on potential extension application costs, it does result in a significant up front outlay.  We are therefore increasingly seeing employers sponsoring permanent UK employees for a shorter initial period.  We are also receiving a number of requests to assist in the preparation of clawback provisions to be inserted into the employment contracts of sponsored migrants, which enable employers to claim back all, or a proportion of, the immigration costs if the sponsored migrant leaves their employment before their sponsorship ends.  Care must be taken in the drafting of such terms to ensure that they are not deemed to be penalty clauses since this could result in them being found to be unenforceable.  In addition, it is important to be aware that there are some immigration costs that sponsor licence holders are not permitted to claw back, which includes the Immigration Skills Charge.